President has done well in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he took the Covid-19 Vaccine jab at State House, Nairobi. [Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta has, no doubt, handled the Covid-19 pandemic well.

The first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported on March 12, 2020, this was nearly over two months after the first case was reported in the world.

Although the country did not handle the situation well from the start, dragging its feet to enforce travel restrictions soon after Covid-19 was declared a global health emergency, President Kenyatta stepped in and a lot changed.

Travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, lockdowns and curfews were some of the measures the government put in place at the height of the pandemic.

On a daily basis, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe gave updates on the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19.

And when vaccines finally arrived, many were not keen to get jabbed because of concerns about safety. Uhuru took charge and was among the first people to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Other top ministry officials followed suit and this motivated many Kenyans to take the jab.

Covid-19 has had adverse effects on the economy; air travel restrictions affected tourism significantly, and it also led to massive job losses, business closures and disrupted school calendar.

Looking back, Dr Willis Akhwale, chair of the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce, said the president embraced technical advice from experts who constantly briefed him on policies, guidelines, modelling and data from health facilities to save the country.

“The president was keen on policy guidelines as the pandemic required a lot of input into the guidelines,” said Dr Akhwale, adding that political goodwill was crucial in implementing the Covid-19 guidelines as some would have met resistance.

Dr Akhwale noted that vaccine uptake improved when Uhuru led by example in the vaccination drive.

"Immediately the president picked the jab, the numbers tripled,” said Dr Akwale.

Prof Matilu Mwau, an infectious disease specialist, concurs.

“Every hour, the task force briefed Mutahi Kagwe, who shared information with the head of state and which enhanced policy formulation and guidelines in managing the pandemic, a move that enhanced decision-making.

"The president took a personal interest to fight the pandemic and wanted to know where the country was at and what was required to save lives," said Prof Mwau.

Uhuru allocated more resources to fighting Covid-19 pandemic, including strengthening the healthcare system; installing oxygen plants and stations, setting up Intensive Care Units, bringing in more isolation beds and equipping laboratories.

Kagwe singled out Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) which he said increased its oxygen supply to an extent that it would sustain the country, in case of a surge in infections.

The Oxygen Generating Plant at MTRH produced 2,000 litres of oxygen per minute, according to the ministry’s preliminary report from the Covid-19 Taskforce. By August 2020, only 16 per cent of hospitals had oxygen supply.

But the ministry in partnership with Belgium and other external support installed several oxygen processing plants across the country.

Nakuru, Kiambu, Mombasa and Meru installed oxygen plants to boost supply.

“Kenya is now well equipped,” said Kagwe. “We are many times above where we started.”

Laboratory testing capacity has also improved; from one single lab in March 2020, to 95.

“At the beginning of the pandemic early last year, we used to ship our samples for testing in South Africa and the results turnaround time would be anything from five days onwards,” said Uhuru during Mashujaa Day last year. 

Covid-19 waves left hospitals strained, necessitating lockdowns and curfews to contain the spread of the virus.  

Sourcing for vaccines was another challenge. Though Kenya ordered 24 million doses through Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) facility, the supply was halted following a surge of infections in India.

This led the president to establish the Sh2 billion Kenya Biovax facility, at Embakasi in Nairobi for the manufacture of vaccines, and other medical supplies to reduce the importation burden and donor dependency.

“Work is ongoing at the Biovax facility, and soon, the country will be self-sufficient, in the supply of drugs and medical supplies,” said Dr Akhwale.

In Africa, Uhuru played a key role in the African Bureau to enable African countries to have an alternative source of vaccines.

At the time, African states were not being supplied with vaccines. The African Union formed a Bureau, of which Kenya was part, with South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa as chair.

Despite the president’s efforts in ensuring Kenya attains its target of jabbing at least 27 million by the end of this year, Dr Akhwale regrets that there is no goodwill at county levels

“It surprises me that no political leader has come out during rallies to urge their supporters to continue observing Covid-19 preventive measures, including vaccination,” he said.

The blight in fighting Covid-19 came in form of scandals: the country lost resources through procurement of substandard equipment like gloves and aprons, through the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, where misappropriation of Sh7.8 billion Covid-19 funds was reported.

To date, no one has been prosecuted despite Uhuru ordering government agencies to take action on the culprits.

Covid 19 Time Series